Free Write -- Rationale

Writing is like panning for gold or hunting for diamonds. If you get good at it, you gain a skill needed to succeed, to gain confidence, to fully participate in any learning activity and to be active in community life -- If you can express yourself, you are more apt to participate. Simple as that.

But learning to write well takes practice.

Your YWP digital classroom platform is a great space for students to practice -- to experiment, to play, to focus. Just about everything written in a class can be posted — drafts, journal entries, reflections, poems, finished pieces, discussions, narratives, podcasts, digital stories and essays. You can build a supportive writing community around this platform -- and what is done in class -- to create trust and mutual respect. That will lead to students taking creative risks, engaging in subjects that interest them and improving.

Regular writing should be a pedagogy:
  • writing skills improve when writing is a regular activity;
  • peer commenting and feedback helps both the reader observe and articulate and the author improve their work and be affirmed;
  • youths care about their peers and try harder when they know their peers are their audience;
  • writing for an online audience fosters respect and digital literacy; and
  • regular research on the Web helps youths differentiate fact from opinion or falsehoods.

The benefits of student blogging don't end here. Regular writing also:
  • engages students;  
  • creates powerful, inclusive learning communities;
  • provides writing practice as students reflect, converse, collaborate and create;
  • deepens critical thinking;
  • allows students to develop their own voice, as they see that their ideas and views matter;
  • helps students see that information is interconnected through linking;
  • suits all learning styles and abilities
  • provides increased motivation for writing and reading, as students read each others' posts
  • teaches students to read critically yet respond respectfully;
  • improves confidence levels enables students to create with text, multimedia, audio, images and video; and
  • fosters peer-to-peer learning

Some students are thrilled when they hear that they get to write in a digital space. Others are skeptical and nervous when asked to post their work for all the class to see -- even though what they write can't be seen by the outside world. They don't necessarily like to work in "public" or in groups. They may feel exposed when other students read their writing, especially if they believe they are not as skilled as some of their classmates. It can take time for everyone to feel comfortable sharing. But once students trust one another and themselves, and realize how fun and engaging it is to write “for real” about what matters to them, they find that writing in digital spaces helps them to become better writers and stronger learners. Learning is, after all, intensely social, and the digital world is all about connecting and communicating.

Some teachers shy away from regular practice writing for a simple reason -- there is so much curriculum and learning to accomplish in a year. They worry that it will take too much time for both them and their students. They worry about finding time to read the students' work, let alone respond to every entry posted. Yes, students need responses, coaching, even correcting, but the more they begin to do this together rather than depending on the teacher to do it for them, the more skilled they will get at thinking, writing, and learning.

So YWP recommends to teachers to rest easy; respond to some but not all posts as much as you can, rotating through the group so that everyone receives responses but does not become dependent on your feedback. And if you, the teacher, are worried about how they're treating each other, take a quick peak at the comments via the comments link to see whether they are following their own guidelines which they developed at the beginning of the year.

So a suggestion: Get the kids to write regularly -- for only 7 minutes; and give them an additional 5 minutes to read and comment on someone else's work.